Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Word of the Day - steps

We're at that in-between place in our family story, where the little ones are outgrowing the toddle stage and are actually running, and the teeny one is just barely trying rice cereal so it will be a while before she takes her first steps. I am afraid too many of us take for granted the ability to take steps. I say this from experience. When Guillain Barre came crushing into me six years ago, pressing me into my bed and paralyzing my limbs as it stripped the myelin sheaths from the long thin nerve strands of my body, I learned to appreciate walking. Even still, after the blessed power of healing set me upright once again, I have super zingy nerves in my feet to remind me every time I take a step. Any little touch or motion and my feet feel like your arm does when you hit your crazy bone. I've gotten pretty used to it now, but I wonder sometimes what it would feel like to be unaware of your legs. Every time I think that, I picture my friend Joan, who has no legs, and I am grateful for the pain. "What Joan wouldn't give, " I say to myself, "to have legs that hurt." I do deal with a leftover fear of stairs though. I'm not sure if this doesn't have more to do with the nightmares I have had about falling down stairs as my entrance to the Pearly Gates, or if it has to do with the balance and timing issues associated with peripheral nerve damage. Anyway, I avoid steps as much as I can, though if there are two handrails and I have nothing in my arms I can handle them fine.

Steps, in general, have become just a good place to take pictures. Think in your mind of the various steps upon which you have stood for your family photos. We have a cherished snapshot of our clan on the steps of Presinden Hinckley's office building. We had been invited to come sing him a song I had written called Stand a Little Taller. He was so warm and gracious to us that day you can see it in our faces there on his steps. More recently we are at the state Courthouse when Dave faced the Senate, receiving their approval to become the next state court judge. The cold marble of those steps echoed our whispers of celebration as we huddled together before the cameras. Eight years ago yesterday John stood in his tuxedo and Ashley in her satin gown on the steps of the Salt Lake Temple. We who love them gathered around them, clear up to the massive temple doors, looking out while Sophie, Parker and Ruby peeked in from their heaven place, the way my sisters and I used to peek through the banisters at the grown ups having a party down in the living room. We have cherished portraits on the steps of various temples, with missionaries and brides and grooms standing in the center. Next week Annie will stand on the steps of the Huntsman Center wearing a cap and gown, velvet stripes of her Masters Degree wrapped around her arms. We have photos of babies in long white blessing gowns on the front steps of our home, and first day of school snapshots on the front stoop.

On the bead board wall at the side of my fridge there are two sentimental items hanging. One is a needlework piece my sister Sue made as a housewarming gift. When we moved from the old house to this current one she "stole" from our fridge a hand scribbled list of Family Rules we had made for Home Evening one night. There were three rules. Here's what it says:


NO FIGHTING: It makes us ugly and unhappy


WORK HARD THEN PLAY HARD: There is no excuse for boredom

Above that is an old oval frame with a photo of my Grandmother Lizzie. She is standing on the steps of a courthouse, somewhere in Idaho, probably Pocatello. She is holding a pair of spoons in position atop a metal pot. She is surrounded by other women bearing similar items of domestic musicianship: one holds a washboard; another has a frypan made into a banjo; one has a griddle with various items of percussion dangling from it, like a triangle and a measuring cup, a ladle and an ice pick; one has what appears to be a wash basin plunger, another holds the basin. They all have pointy white hats with the letters B.G. appliqued and banners across their chests that say BLACKFOOT GRANGE.

I never knew my Grandmother Lizzie Parrish. She died when my own mother was just 14 years old. But I can tell a bit about her from this black and white photograph hanging in my kitchen. Though she appears rather sober in expression, I hear laughter in the fact that she was willing to walk among her friends, the other wives of Blackfoot farmers, banging a pot in a KITCHEN BAND in a hometown parade. I imagine them stitching their uniforms, making their instruments, rehearsing their numbers. It makes the corners of my lips turn heavenward as she speaks to me from the grave. I feel her looking at me as I sling my guitar strap over my shoulder. "Don't forget, little one," she whispers, "Don't forget that the best music you make is here in your kitchen." I am told she had a lovely, angelic voice. She used it from the pulpit in church meetings, to soothe crying babies and troubled hearts on Sunday mornings. Still, the photo I have of her is in her Kitchen Band, standing on some steps with her friends, pounding on a pot. She reminds me to be real. Sometimes I wink at her when I walk by.
"Thanks, Gramma Lizzie" I think to myself, and I imagine her nodding to me from her heaven place, up there between the rungs of the banister as she looks down on me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Word of the Day today is: YES

Though I made my mother swear to keep me from falling in love and marrying until I was at least 26 and had my PHD in Psychology (yeah, I once thought such a thing was possible), I was a young bride. Nineteen years old, to be exact. At twenty-six I was pregnant with my fourth child. A young bride, and a young mother of a chunk of kids. Goodness, I am amazed any of us survived me! So many mistakes. Oh my, it turns my stomach to think of it! I was just barely learning to deal with myself when I became responsible for so many powerful young souls. In an attempt to follow the guidance of the mother I admired the most, I tried to keep the reigns tight like my mother had. At least it seemed so in my own mind...that my mom kept tight reigns on her kids. But we're all fairly independent souls, so I'm not sure where that notion came from, except that as a kids we knew exactly...I repeat...e-x-a-c-t-l-y what to expect when we disobeyed our mother! I thought a mother-in-control was a mother who said "No" as a matter of course. "Yes" was a word to be used for only the most perfect occasions. So the day my friend Sally Jo gave me a book by her other friend Jeroldeen Edwards was pivotal for me. One of the essays in her book, which was about the joys and sorrows of parenting something like thirteen children, alluded to her belief that as parents we should try to create within ourselves an instinctive response of YES to our children's desires. YES should prevail until reason supplies evidence in support of NO.
"Yes, Love, we should go out and jump in the rain," or "Yes, I do think we should read another book." I had not considered that these might be appropriate answers. It was rather liberating for me, though I do not profess to have always followed this theory in my parenting. But I know it helped at some level, to have given myself permission to think outside the box of order and control.
Tonight we waved goodbye to my sisters and other family members as they returned to CA. It got late. Sarah and Dave, who are staying with us this month while she works at Tanner Medical Clinic, walked down the street from Gram and Libby's at 11:00. Two year old Anna Bella and five year old Timothy got into their PJ's and brushed their teeth. "OK, time for bed now!" Sarah whispered. Timo started to sob..."But you promised we would have our family movie night!" Tears from both little sets of eyes, and really sad, really tired moans, and Mommy looked at Daddy. Soon enough they were all snuggled into pillows on the TV room floor with a 1/2 hour Disney show.
The rest of the "normal", "scheduled" world may criticize. Snuggling on the floor at midnight when work begins at 8 am might not work for them, and that's OK. But for this little family, whose mommy spends nearly 100 hours a week driving to and from the hospital where she pulls 16 hour shifts in an attempt to fulfill a very big family dream, it is the right thing. I celebrate their ability to turn away from social mores, the ones that tell good Christian women they have only one place they should be, that tell good Christian men where they should be as well, and that tell good Christian children they should be in bed and sleeping at 11:30 pm. I peeked in just five minutes ago and saw love bouncing back and forth there on the line of pillows of our play room floor. This was an exercise in YES. Not the YES of a lazy soul, but the YES of one who hears the sticks of the Big Drummer making the beat for their song.
Some YES' are mistakes, this I know. And so are some NO's. But I have learned that when we are building trust; when we are building friendship; when we are nurturing the ability to dream big and to walk with a little risk in order to get to higher places, YES is the word of choice. At least by instinct. NO may prevail in the end, which is often the right thing, but YES bubbling up first makes for sweeter moments and sweeter memories.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Thanks for all the yummy suggestions for our Laurel Luncheon. If I were not already super satiated by a lovely graduation dinner tonight at Market Street Grill (congrats nephew Christopher) I would be thinking of making a quiche right now, with a side of salad and croissants of various sizes. We ended up having a yummy chicken salad on Romaine leaves with Broccoli Cheese soup and warm rolls. I also made a new recipe of lemon shortbreads and brownies, knowing there would be lots left over for a week's worth of nibbles for the current crowd. We have been super duper fabulously blessed to have Sarah and Dave and their two little munchkins with us for the month of April. Sarah, who is in her last year of Pediatrics Residency at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, has been doing a remote rotation at Tanner Medical Clinic in Layton. It's been heavenly to have them here. They leave to return to KC next Thursday and I am feeling the panic of impending withdrawal! There is no greater joy than to have little arms wrap around your legs in the morning, or to feel the warm breath of a little head tucked into your neck at night, or to rub noses while eating yogurt across the high chair tray. Knowing how precious these things are, and how much Sarah misses them with her 30 hour shifts and 80+ hour weeks in Residency, I am so excited for her to finally be done with the training part and into a part time medical practice so she can finally BE with her kids. We are counting down! She amazes me. They all do!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I am so lucky because my life is filled with a fabulous group of young women aged 16-18. We have a luncheon once a month at my house, during the school day, so it's only about 45 minutes long. We really love it! Wednesday is our next Laurel Lunch and I am on the look-out for something new and yummy to serve that's not too heavy and not to difficult. There are 18 of us.
Any suggestions?

Monday, April 13, 2009


I just wiped down the counter top in the kitchen and thought I might head to bed, having the beauty of a wonderful Easter Sunday floating in my brain. Alas, it just did not feel right to head to bed without a stop at the old blog spot. I know my commitment to what I called my Lenten Writing is over now, and I really can just go to bed. But I thought, rather than having to go COLD TURKEY I would just stop and say Hi.



ps-there is so much I could write about this day...the way the phlox has come into full bloom next to the heather along the rock wall in our front yard...the tender feelings I had for the Young Women in our ward as we shared an Easter Lesson about lambs this morning...the sounds of 20 people gathered around a table with juicy ham and grandma Connors salad and scalloped potatoes and yams and pies...the picture of my white haired mother in her pink sweater looking angelic and springlike...ending the night sitting in a rocker with Dave listening to a rough mix of the recording session I had on Good Friday with Mark Robinette, Dave Eskelsen and Michael Huff with Guy Randle at the board and Carla Eskelsen lending her ear. The song was Give Me Jesus. This 3 hour session will go down as one of the most spiritually complete moments in music for me and when I hear the recording (even in its roughness) I can bring up those feelings, like we were all witnessing there in the studio with our instruments. I would write about all this, but ...you know...I don't HAVE to. ;)

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Saturday, April 11, 2009 words
To my friends, some of whom have followed me in this exercise of discipline I imposed upon myself in honor of Lent, which most calendars indicate ends today:
I have been doing what began as Object Writing for many years now. It was suggested to me and a very dear cluster of songwriting friends one summer night on our back deck. Pat Pattison, the head of the Berklee College of Music’s Songwriting Department, had come to Utah to lead a workshop on lyric writing. He stayed at our house, a few times in fact, for various Utah seminars. Pat has a PhD in Philosophy from Notre Dame and our teenage boy and his buddies loved sitting at the table with him discussing the universe and all that mattered in it. We songwriters in earnest loved learning what he knew about good writing. So when we gathered at our house for our monthly songwriters circle, known as Saltwerks, Pat taught us to do Object Writing. Here are the rules, as I interpreted them and as I now teach them in my own lyric writing classes:
1. Be still
2. Choose an object, any noun (grapefruit, car, slippers, New Jersey, etc.)
3. Set a timer if possible. If not, ask someone to time you for ten minutes.
4. Make yourself aware for the seven senses:
Time (of day, year, season, century, etc)
Kinesthetic sense (sense of placement in space, or of motion)
5. Write the object on the top of your paper and begin writing, being aware of the senses and how they interpret the object
6. STOP when ten minutes is up. Limiting your time will make you more likely to exercise again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
7. Keep your object writing in one place, and be sure to date each one.

I have volumes of OW words, which one year I compiled for my mother for Mother’s Day. She loved that gift. The writing I have been doing for this Lenten exercise has been a little different. First of all, it takes me a lot longer than 10 minutes. Believe me. It does not just fall out like water. But I also do not do much editing, if any. The editor is not invited to these kinds of rehearsals. I have purposefully allowed my mind to go to places of memory and experience in these recent daily writings. I have wanted this sacrifice of my “comfort” (ie-not writing when I don’t feel like it…pretty much most of the time!) to create something that is good for me, if for no one else. I committed to use words from the Internet’s Random Word Generator and not just write what I felt like writing about, as I would normally do in a blog post. The requirement I put upon myself to write even when a word was not particularly inspiring to me has been good for me. What I have discovered is that the most random of words will eventually lead us to more serious, sometimes funny, and almost always meaningful thoughts.
I am a lover of words. Not in the academic way per se. I love them because they were designed to connect us with one another. We can speak volumes in silence, for sure. But we can also say so much with letters strung together. I love to write songs. I love to sing and play songs. But most of all, I love the power of words to communicate. I learned long ago that the more specific we become in our writing, talking about particulars and not in generalizations, the more universal the emotion can be. People will tell me they did not have a Blue Pontiac Station Wagon when they were small, but they absolutely understand and feel their own travels when they hear Pontiac Rocket. My writing these past 40+ days has been likely a little too specific to my life for some people. Maybe a little too personal. But I have thanked the Lord for making me the kind of person who is willing to expose my heart to anyone willing to look. It is a risky thing. Risky, and wonderful. Everybody gets the same me.
I will miss the regularity of communicating, even when no one reads but me. I will NOT miss being dead tired at 1:00 am and realizing I cannot go to bed until I have done my Word of the Day. I will continue writing, for myself mostly, with an occasional posting on this blog. So check back. And be sure to say Hi.
Finally, today, Holy Saturday, we prepare for the most blessed of all days: Easter Sunday. I am stirred to tears at the beauty of belief, and grateful that I have not had to squeeze the willingness to believe into a doubting soul. It comes naturally to me. Not that I never have doubts or questions. But there are a few absolutes that have never shifted from the core of my being. One of them is complete confidence that all mankind is saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. He saves even those who do not believe him, who don’t care to know him. How loving is that?
I pray that the tiny speck that is my life, in the grand portrait of his influence, will have place in the light instead of the shadows, though I understand the need for shadow in portraiture. I hope that anyone will know, after reading more than forty daily random writings, that I am a Christian. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, sister and friend. I am a grandmother and a teacher. I am a student. And I am a believer.
A blessed Easter to all. Thanks for walking this road with me.


April 10, 2009 coin
He could not give them back. Though he tried, once his mind let go of it, the coins just fell to the ground, rolling into the corner, some of them. One made its way down the steps of the temple and landed at the feet of a beggar boy. Still, they belonged to him; thirty silver coins, their imprint being burnt into his hands, the ridges of sheckles pressed against the fleshy pads under his thumbs.
"I have accused an innocent man", he tried to tell them, but they had already set the millstone to turning and the grain was already caught in the crushing. No turning back such a stone. And so he turned away from the temple and hanged himself.
My shoulders sink down closer to my heart thinking of Judas. Heavy, heavy sins no thinking soul would commit. I convince myself of this, that he was ill, that he could not have known the seriousness of what he was doing, and once the reality of it hit him, his gut turned to fire and he could no longer breathe with the heat. My devotion to the Master should confidently curse him for what he did. Instead the sinner in me wants to embrace him and weep. I would take the coins from him and change the course of history, freeing the prisoner, and in so doing I would curse the whole of mankind. It is a good thing the Powers did not care. A good thing because I need Jesus. I need him to lay himself on the scale against my heavy weight. I need him to oversee the large canvas being painted by every breathing soul, from yesterday until the last tomorrow. I need his understanding of justice. I need his blessed mercy. I need his footsteps to walk in.
A few years back, on a frigid winter night I rolled from my bed and buried my head in my pillow, worn out from lack of sleep, confused at the depression that had fused itself to my body and frozen the synapse healthy people don't even know is happening in their brains. Quivering in the stillness of that night, I begged God to hear me.
"Are you there?" I whispered into the pillow. "If you are there, do you know what I am feeling? And if you do, why do you let it continue?"
These are the pleadings of a child, like Sophie when she sat in her mama's lap realizing the doctor was about to stick a sharp needle into her leg, confused as to why any caring person would do such a thing.
I do not hear angels, I am sorry to say. I do not hear words whispered in personal revelation from my good sister angels. I wish I did. It would alleviate a lot of mistakes for sure. And I do not have a burning in the bosom either. But that night I heard something. What I heard there, at the side of my bed, was a replaying of a Sunday School lesson from years before. Steve Geary was teaching. I remembered him asking the question: "What does Firstborn mean?" Answers rose from the class...the firstborn son of God the Father; the first born son of the virgin Mary. These we all knew. Why would these thoughts come to me at the side of my bed on a January night? Then, quietly, I heard my own voice answer. Firstborn; it means my own sins, my mistakes and weaknesses, as well as the suffering I may not have called upon myself: these all were experienced in actuality before I ever felt them. They were first born by Him, there in the Garden, when his brothers had fallen asleep in their vigil. Born in that place of crushing, where blood spilt from open pores, where throbbing pain turned to constancy, and where the greatest burden had to have been the loneliness he felt at bearing it alone. Knowing my own personal struggle was completely familiar to someone else made the bearing of it less solitary. That someone knew exactly how I felt was comforting, like we are suddenly excited when someone from our home state is at the large conference in New Jersey. The sharing of familiar things endears others to us. I knew someone knew exactly how I felt, and it made me breathe deeper knowing I was not so alone in this. All this aside from the actual mathematics of payment, of ransoming, of covering the wage for opening the door back home. This was Jesus. This is Jesus.
There is the imprint of a coin burnt into my palm, one I used to sell him to the suffering. I would shake the scars off if I could. Instead, I imagine him lifting my hand in his, him opening my fingers to expose the sin, then laying his own wounded hand atop mine. I feel his goodness rush through me. Sweet, steady breath of heaven, filling my lungs and invigorating my mind.
I cannot give it back, my coin. I cannot say how I know this: but I believe he is OK with that. I am a debtor. He is grace.

Friday, April 10, 2009


April 9, 2009 compiler
There is nothing new. Not really. In the space before the beginning it was matter unorganized, plucked from yonder by Jehovah and Michael and assembled for their Doctoral project. They both got A’s, and graduated with high honors. Their little project was set in motion on an invisible axis where it spins, even after all these years, in the center of that huge eternal planetarium not far from Home. Since then we have just been reorganizing the matter, assembling and compiling, thinking ourselves clever for creating something new, when really all we have done is switched stuff around, like the way they rotate dinner ingredients and give them new names on the menu in a Chinese Restaurant. Not to make less of the beauty of the arrangements that have appeared through the years; stone chiseled to the David; water cresting at the rim of Niagara; land blown away by the lips of some celestial being, leaving the pits and mesas of the Grand Canyon; words compiled into masterpieces of War and of Peace and of passion and sweetness, poetry and novels and bibles and such. Their newness is in our own eyes, our own ears and taste buds. Our nostrils flare with the crispness of an early autumn day, all musky and earthy, and we think it fresh and vibrant and new; but it is only new because it is so different from the days before. Autumn has re-compiled the ingredients: borrowing a waft of arctic air from Winter, a loamyness of earth from young Springtime, and the radiant sunlight diffusing through dying leaves from the heart of Summer. Before the side of Niagara fell away, when the earth shook and fell to darkness for three days, there was just a little stream quietly running along the mountainside. On that frightful and glorious day the earth groaned with sorrow at the suffering of her maker. She shivered and shook, leaving tall places crumbled in heaps on the ground, and raising up to the skies places that were low. The stream grew wide where the mountainside crumbled away, in a semi-circle, in the place we call Niagara. I often drive along I-15 and look to the east, imagining that day when these mountains rose up out of the belly of the earth, wondering if it was this time two thousand years ago, when blood spilled to the ground under a cross, half a world away, when the darkening sky heard the whisper of words fall from Holy lips: “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
I wonder, delightfully, at the smile on our first Father’s face as he watches us create. I wonder if it is as I am when I watch Sophie and Timo draw on the playroom table, clean white paper scratched with the tips of colored wax in the shapes of princesses and super-heroes. I smile at their lack of perspective, at their skewed sense of size and balance, at their innocence and inexperience. Is it as charming for Him as it is for me, knowing he is watching me at this moment compiling letters onto words, and words into sentences? Something exists on this page that did not exist 25 minutes ago; something with my stamp on it, unique to me and freshly created. Does He smile at me thinking this, nodding His head with encouragement, knowing that the process is good for me even if the product is not so ideal? Somehow I suspect He does: smile, that is. He smiles and whispers, “keep going” and I move under his warm loving breath hoping that regardless of how beautifully or miserably I reassemble the matter, in the end He will approve.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


April 8, 2009 Hip
"You'll know...believe me, you'll know!" Dr. Pepper Murray, mom's orthopedic surgeon winked at her as she sat on the table in his office. She would eventually need a hip replacement, and she was just wondering when that might be. They don't have a definitive test for such things. The little internal bell rings at some un-premeditated moment, some morning when it was no longer possible to roll over in bed, or some afternoon when the walk up the stairs was just too much and half way up a little sprite on the shoulder squealed, "NOW! NOW!" The straw that breaks the camel's back. The point of no return.
One day Mom knew, and she called Dr. Pepper and set an appointment and in she went.
The morning of the surgery we fasted, we kids, and we kissed mom goodbye before they wheeled her into surgery. Because of Mom's propensity to bleed and to clot, they did not fully anesthetize her. They put her under just enough to be unaware of what was really happening, but not so much that she was out of it. When Pepper came out to tell us how it went, he said she did just fine, but said she tried to tell him how to do the surgery through he whole procedure. He also mentioned that her language was rather colorful. I imagine it was.
The surgery lasted a couple hours. Lib waited. George and I went up the street to Universal Floral Supply and purchased seven dozen roses. Seven rose varieties, a different strain and color for each of her children. We bought a large wicker basket and lined it, then trimmed and wired all seven dozen roses into that one large basket so that when she was fully awake she could see it right next to her bed. See it and smell it and feel her kids, even those who were hundreds of miles away, right there with her.
The reality was that when she got to her room she threw up, the medication having caused severe nausea, and the heaving, with a brand new hip, was not he most pleasant of human experiences. It took a while for her to return to herself. But when she did she loved the roses. And she loved the company of hospital staff and even other patients who had heard about the basket of roses and had to come see it. They opened with fragrant grace as she began to heal.
Soon Mom was moved to a rehab floor at Lakeview Hospital. They made her get up and walk. They forced her into the rec room to play old peoples' games and eat old peoples' food and smell old people smells and it did not make her happy! She hated it! "Get me out of here" she insisted, to us and to Pepper. As soon as you do this and that, whatever this and that was. So she determined to get it done. Sooner than anyone had ever imagine we brought her home, with the flowers, and she bit by bit incorporated that metal hip into our lives. We sometimes forget now, all these years later, that her hip can get cold in the winter.
Months later, country music artist Chris LeDoux called and asked to sing my song, Get Back On That Pony. He put the song on his album Under This Old Hat, as well as on his box set retrospective. He sang it with real heart, like he lived it and believed it. We sat in the Delta Center and listened to him introduce the song as his favorite song. I watched the ring of fans rising up from the stage sway back and forth with their Bic Lighters fluttering to the beat. His daughter named her horse Blaze. just the same as the horse in my tune. Sweet things for a songwriter. I opened my own music publishing company for his recording of that song. I had to come up with a company name that no one else was using, registered with ASCAP. Now a rainbow variety of CDs sit in a stack in my cupboard, with the names of various artists scrawled over the front covers. Some are good. Some not. All those recordings have a bit of my mom in them: Seven Roses Music. Thanks, Mom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


April 7, 2009 carriage
To this girl, who has only known the hum of rubber on asphalt under her seat, the thought of a carriage is just so romantic. Even before color TV with afternoon re-runs of The Big Valley (Heath…what a cowboy dreamboat he was!) I was aware of the magic of carriages. Pioneer stories filled my childhood Sundays, our little legs dangling from the miniature pews in the Jr Sunday School Room. And we had picture books, and stories of my mother’s childhood, when they rode to school on a school wagon rather than a school bus in remote Blackfoot Idaho. When Libby and possibly Ann Marie and I were Merrie Miss age, between 10 and 12 years old, we had a sleep over with our teacher, Chris Millard. It was a very real-teenager thing to do and we loved it! We went to the 50 cent movie theatre where Gone with the Wind was playing as part of their Classics Series. We sat on the front row and I think we even had popcorn or licorice or something. When I was a kid we rarely went to the movies, and if we did we certainly did not walk the frivolous walk of popcorn and drinks! We felt so lucky just to get the movie. As an old lady now, in relative terms, I get almost giddy thinking of having popcorn at a movie. A large popcorn and a large drink, even. Sheesh, sometimes our childhood never leaves us. I get that same kind of giddy when it’s 2 am and I want some ice cream and I realize that if I so desired I could go open the freezer and have all I want! This thinking makes me scary excited. I wonder if I will ever outgrow it. Anyway, the carriages outside the plantations of the South, racing through the burning streets of Atlanta; it was all beauty and romance.
When Dave Connors held my hand across the altar and gave me his name to love and to nurture, I was wrapped in that romantic blanket for sure! We drove, the day after our wedding, to Michigan, arriving at Mackinac Bay just after the last ferry had left for the Island. My new husband found a speed boat pilot, negotiated a fare beyond our means, and we loaded our small newlywed suitcases into one seat and snuggled in the other as he shot us across the Straits of Mackinac toward Mackinac Island. As the mainland grew smaller, and the Island bigger, Dave pointed to the West Bluff, where a row of 8 or 9 large mansions kept watch over the waters, capped at the end of the row by the Grand Hotel, of the movie Somewhere in Time fame.
He counted aloud, one cottage at a time, until he reached his grandparents’.
“That one,” he said as he pointed, “that’s the cottage.” I squinted my eyes, shook my head, squinted again and then looked him in the eye.
“You’re kidding, right?” This was no cottage! This was a 13 bedroom mansion, with real honest to goodness Tiffany lamps and 36 matching press back chairs around the dining table. Servants quarters and a carriage house. Are you KIDDING me? This was the cottage his grandparents were evacuating themselves so we could use it for our honeymoon?
When the boat reached the dock we unloaded ourselves and our luggage. Just as we did a carriage rolled up, with two fine horses and a driver in a vest with a short tailed whip.
“Would you be Dave Connors?” the driver queried and he pulled the horses to attention.
“That would be me…us…”, he corrected himself.
The driver was Dave’s cousin’s boyfriend. He hefted our bags to the back of the carriage and Dave helped be up. Just like Prince Charming. We clip clopped all the way up past the backside of the Grand and came to a stop behind the cottage of any girl’s dreams. A large white shake edifice with a welcoming wrap around porch filled with rockers and benches. Dave’s cousin Pam had prepared the place and told us Grandma and Grandpa Roy had given our names to the mercantile before they left the island so anything we wanted we just needed to call and they would send it up. We nested in the turret, the George Washington Room, to be exact, and set about writing the first chapter of our never-ending story. Woke in the morning to the sound of waves lapping against the shore below us, the rhythm of dancing hooves on the streets. No motorized vehicles were allowed on the island, only horses, buggies and bicycles. During the day we golfed on the Island Course, and we strolled along the eternal boardwalk of the Grand Hotel at night, dipping in to watch Man of La Mancha one night. We walked along the beach afterwards and talked about dreams and love and God and earth and there has never been nor will there ever be a more perfect moment in time, the Mackinac breezes against our exposed calves, our arms interlaced, our feet leaving prints in the soft sand.
Two summers later our little Johnny rolled around that front porch in his walker while we sat with guitars and sang to Grandma Roy as she knitted. We met Christopher Reeves while he was there filming Somewhere in Time. We spoiled ourselves for any other fudge besides May’s Mackinac Island Fudge.
Dave’s cousin Pam married that carriage driver. I am still charmed by the prince who captured me and took me across the waters. I guess most good fairy tales do have carriages.
(note: the cottage is the pink roofed one in the picture at the top of this post. It was sold many years ago, when Grandma and Grandpa Roy found it too much to care for by themselves. They had another cottage on the shore of Lake Huron in Tawas, Michigan. Grandpa gave 5 beachfront lots to each of his 5 daughters. Dave's mom built her dream cottage, a sweet little true cottage type cottage, a few years before she was killed in a car accident in 1994. It is still the place we go to feel peace and to feel her.)


April 6 2009 downstairs
Magic or mystery or both reside downstairs. Doesn't matter what the house is, or where it is. Could be the basement of an apartment complex. Could be the underbelly of a subway station, or the catacombs of Davis High School. It is the mixture of items important enough to save but not important enough to be remembered and used; forgotten treasures mixed with cobwebs and moldy bindings. Downstairs in the eastern US tastes different than downstairs in the western desert. Downstairs in the west is the smell of wood and cement and laundry and a three month supply of Dial soap on the back room shelves. Downstairs Tawas, Michigan is nautical, the damp air snuggling into your nose with the scent of wet canvas and mildewed wood, the hum of a dehumidifier as an overtone to all conversation. Downstairs at 373 Old Clairton Road in Pleasant Hills PA was varnished gum wood banisters sticky with August, cold cement and curling edges on the flooring. We had an old aluminum screen door that banged faithfully in the key of A when we ran out to the back yard. Our basement reeked of Marlboro cigarettes and Iron City Beer during baseball season, our father hunkering down in his chair, his feet sunken in the ottoman inches away from the black and white tube TV. Mother Nature helped us along in the cleansing process of that basement when the roots of the trees surrounding the old Tudor home dug into the sewer lines underneath and the liquid belched up into the basement. Inevitably she did this directly before we were to leave for our summer trip to Idaho. Or, if she was in an extra spiteful mood she regurgitated while we were gone, so when we returned exhausted from 38 straight hours in a station wagon we got to lug boxes of old school papers and Relief Society magazines out to the incinerator and leave it all piled there to dry enough so we could burn it on our designated burning day. So much of the masterpiece of my childhood went up in smoke, and is designated as speckles in the air of the universe. Every child needs a good basement somewhere, if not at their own home, then at their Aunt Becky's, or their grandparents, or at their mom's good friend's house. Somewhere where the noises of today are muffled by the floorboards and ceilings, where imagination is freed by anonymity, where the left over clothing of decades ago become costumes for a play, and the cans of lentil beans become dinner on a cardboard box stove in the far back room, where the toys of a toddler are stored and rediscovered in secret, calling up old feelings that disappeared unawares years before. And every basement needs to hold sacred some unfinished portion; somewhere that stays the same, year after year, or is only added to, not taken away.
Consider this: we are playing at this very moment, all of us, in the basement of heaven. Still part of the house, but the grown ups upstairs are so serious and, well...grown up. We are here in the downstairs, pretending to be grownups in the leftover shavings of former creations, free to create. Safe, but free.

Monday, April 6, 2009


April 5 2009 peculiar

Last Sunday, after returning from our trip to Kansas City and Nauvoo, followed by a two day Mormon Arts Retreat, followed by the Young Women's General Conference, I made myself wake up and get myself to church Sunday morning, pretty hammered with exhaustion. After our Young Women's opening exercises (I am YW president, by the way, a fairly new church calling) I went to sit down and listen to the lesson. While I was gone they had released one of our Laurel advisors, who had been scheduled to teach. I had spoken briefly with one of our teachers and had thought another advisor was covering the lesson, so when she said "You are teaching, aren't you?" I replied, "You are kidding, aren't you?"
She wasn't.
Ali suggested we spend the next 45 minutes just gabbing about nothing important (in her own words), and many of the girls, ages 16-18, were tired from Prom the night before. The lesson manual said the lesson that should have been prepared was on families working together, or something like that. Instead I felt to teach them something about the Holy Week which began today with Palm Sunday. For the next little chunk of time I reviewed aloud the gift and beauty of the events of this week we celebrate, the week before the Savior took the steps that empowered all mankind, which ends with the most important of all holidays, Easter. I started by talking about Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and Lent. A lot of this was newly arranged information to many of these girls, as we do not have formal religious services that celebrate these events in our church, though we do believe in the importance of the events themselves. When I told them about Lent I mentioned this little "personal sacrifice" I selected for myself during Lent: my word of the day writing. This exercise is demanding for me (this shows my general lack of discipline) and many days I wish I had not made this commitment. "But", I said, "I have seen some interesting and insightful things about myself through this exercise. First of all, I have proven to myself that I can actually do something uncomfortable. Repeatedly. Even on vacation and when I'm sick." That was a big thing for me, and really quite empowering. "Secondly, looking back through what I have written the last thirty something days, I have discovered that I am...odd." They giggled, and I tried not to be too offended at their nods. "Maybe a better word would be 'peculiar'", I pondered aloud. We Latter-day Saints are a peculiar lot. If I did not believe in earnest I would not be this way. But I do.
"I find", I told them, "that often what I write about is my faith, or my struggles with faith, or my gut feelings which involve by nature religious beliefs. Or I write about peculiarities having to do with the organization of the church, because that is so much a part of my daily life. And besides, simple things turn spiritual to me. Things are symbolic to me. They always have been. Ask my poor sisters, who could never watch a late-night-movie in peace because I had to note what things were symbolic." I wonder if they got what I was saying.
Part of me wants to be world-wise-normal, to think those thoughts that make it possible for men and women to live together before marriage, which make it ok to have a glass of wine or to have a beer at the ball park. Things that are completely expected these days, so much so that one becomes "odd" when they behave or think otherwise. Peculiar. Yuh, it is different, and those who would shake all persons through a homogenous mixer would attempt to criticize. The irony is that so many people think of Mormons as over-homogenous. I just tend to think that things like the ten commandments are commandments, not suggestions. And if I have peculiar beliefs about other things I think the Lord asks of me, that should be ok. I still like to listen to the radio. I like to shop in normal stores and see normal movies and cheer for normal ball teams. I laugh at most normal jokes, if they are not degrading to humans or animals. I read with interest most of the newspaper and watch Oprah when I have an afternoon at home. I cry at Hallmark commercials and think Jack Bauer is indestructible. So excuse please, what you might consider odd.
Please, call it peculiar.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


April 4, 2009 conscience
Like a lucky penny, polished to an orange-copper sheen by the constancy of rubbing, I carry my conscience with me. Even when I would rather lose it, when the weight of my humanness sinks completely to the bottoms of my feet and my few but blessed good habits fall like unzipped trousers around my ankles, my conscience is still there. It was planted years ago, like a micro-chip under the skin, and I imagine my best angel (BA) keeping tabs on me through it. I sometimes think it is more like a walkie talkie though, with BA manning the base unit. Our conversation goes something like this:
"Human Girl (HG), this is BA making initial contact. Are you alert as you drive? Over."
I respond:
"Copy that, Good Buddy. Just ate three Swedish Fish, one chunk of beef jerky and drank a 12 oz Diet Pepsi. Should get me to downtown Farmington. Over."
I lose consciousness of any caloric content when I am driving. It is a matter of life and death and that situation makes indulging a necessity. I believe I have something like 50 pounds of stay awake on me.
I'm driving along and decide to enter Kohls Department Store, armed with a 30% off coupon. A voice enters my brain:
"HG, careful now. Remember how crowded the perimeter of your bedroom is getting. You already have 12 wedding gifts stashed there, and three boxes of clothes, not to mention the after-Christmas sale items you have not yet found a place for. Over."
"Uh, thanks for the reminder. Really. I needed that. Over."
So I continue, weaving through the aisles of the store like the grid on a schematic. I find my Kohls cart has two books, one pair of shoes, a picture frame on Clearance, of course, and a pair of size 8 pajamas. I notice a little static in my left ear, then a bit of a shout:
"Excuse me HG, who in your circle of love wears size 8 pajamas? Are you sure you need those? I repeat...are you sure you need those? Over."
"Oh my Heck, BA (this equates to swearing at an angel). Can't you see these are SPIDERMAN pajamas? On SALE! Timothy is already into a size 5 and he will be so happy in three years to find these in the drawer when he visits! O-VER!"
Now here's the thing about consciences. They are relentless. They have that same gene Heavenly Father has; the one that makes it possible for Him to watch us suffer, to observe our idiotic actions and thoughts and still love us. It's that little thing in their make-up that sees the big picture that we, little centipedes that we are, only see from the surface of the mosaic. It is the same amazing gift that allowed an all powerful God to watch His Son suffer unmentionable grief and not interfere. I cannot fathom it as a part of my potential, though I know it is. I got to practice that behavior on my kids. Now, as a grandmother, a crying child rips my heart out of my chest and causes me to leave my place in the grocery line to see who needs rescue. So I guess it’s a good thing I have a relentless conscience or I would be a 100% wimp instead of only a 98.9% wimp!
I put the pajamas back on the rack, even though they are on sale for $7 PLUS that additional 30% off. In fact, as a comment to the angel, which is a comment to myself I guess, I actually leave the whole dang cart with all my finds in it right there by the doors to the store. Walk out. Walk right on out and leave the mess for some poor clerk to return to the racks.
"Satisfied?" I huff as I exit, but by the time I start the car I feel a sort of relief that has a little radiant edge like the one that glows around euphoria.
"K. Me too, I guess. Over."


April 3, 2009 label
Tonight was one of those nights a grandma dreams of on quiet winter mornings, when all she has to look forward to is the piles of disorganization staring her in the face, along with perhaps a batch of laundry and unloading the dishwasher. Sarah and Dave arrived with Timo and Anna Bella., having driven all 18 hours straight from Kansas City. It happened to be our great fortune that John and Ashley were given a pair of Jazz basketball tickets by the generous Casey and Keisha Hill, so we also got to have Sophie, Parker and baby Ruby with us as well. I should have turned on a recorder just to preserve the noise. When a house like this gets that kind of noise again, its walls sort of shiver and stretch and wake up. If they could talk they would speak like the tree in the book The Giving Tree, saying “Come boy, come play in my hallways and bounce on my couches and I will shelter you and be your friend.” That’s what I think these walls would say.
As the night wore on we loaded Horton Hears a Who into the DVD player and laid a row of pillows and blankets on the family room floor. I popped some popcorn and they attempted to lie still for about 13 minutes. Parker finally jumped up and came over to me where I was sitting in the old Pennsylvania rocking chair. He was wiggling in his baseball pajamas, reaching up behind his back and trying to grab at something near his neck. “Take it off, Gummy”, he said through his Binky. I reached in and felt two layers of labels at the neck of his PJ’s. One was satiny and soft, but the one underneath was stiff and irritating, so I grabbed it with my fingers and gave it a good tug, making sure I did not damage the fabric when I removed it. “Fank oo Gummy”, he said, and went back to his bowl of popcorn. Why do they put those kind of labels in clothing? I mean, seriously, what normal feeling kind of person wants that there? Parker’s daddy was really a label maniac. He had to have every label taken off his clothes, and I am not talking at the age of 12. I mean, when he was one year old, and on. His favorite shirt was that thin green 7 UP shirt of Libby’s, which came down to his knees when he first started wearing it. It was soft, thin and had no labels. I think it is perfectly correct that John was opposed to labels from the womb. The philosopher in him still hates them.
For three years I was blessed to serve the women in the Davis County Jail as a friend and teacher, every Sunday and Wednesday night. I served with Carol Cluff, a sister-heart to this day; and Val Darnell, the same; and Ruth Barker of the poet’s heart. Then when Carol was released as Relief Society President they called me to fill her position and Mary Silver joined us. Those were cherished years. It is likely the only time I will serve as Relief Society president effectively. We did not have Visiting Teaching. We didn’t have Compassionate Service Committees, nor Enrichment nights. We were not even allowed to take stapled papers into the jail because the inmates would remove the staples from the paper, sharpen them on the cement in their small recreation room, then mix toothpaste and pencil lead together so they could tattoo their knuckles and ankles. It was a unique sisterhood I served, and I loved it. One Valentines Day I got special permission from our Deputy to bring in some markers and Valentines cards and candy hearts. The ladies were so excited, you’d have thought we were in third grade on Valentines Day! We dragged the tables to the middle of the room and set up a Valentines Bingo game. As I stood at the end of the table and looked at these women, I asked them to pause for just a moment and look at the door to the media room, where we held our meetings. Taped to the window on that door was a black plastic garbage bag, put there to keep the male inmates in the Delta Echo pod from gawking at the women when they filed past as they went to the courtyard to play basketball. They were gross, crude and lude, and it broke my heart just feeling the bad energy they gave off trying to get a look at a piece of flesh draped in stiff orange uniforms and cheap slip-on tennis shoes. So that black garbage bag got taped up a few years back. I walked over to the door and announced, “Sisters, we are not garbage!” I tore the garbage bag off the door and the women all stood and whooped and clapped. Some of them stood on their chairs union style. I drew from my bag a piece of lace, sewn to the size of that window, and we ceremoniously hung it on the door. We tore that ugly black label off the door of that prison of a place. Softened the fiber of their temporary existence, and whispered to them that in spite of the ugliness of that environment, and the starkness of the situation, we could make of it something more than society tries to impose. One of the sisters sat in her seat and wept, likely tired from fighting, though I want to think it was because she saw a hint of gentleness in a harsh circumstance. I loved those women. I still pray for them. I pray they will have to courage to remove their own labels from their lives, and that they will replace the ugly with a swath of gentleness.

Friday, April 3, 2009


April 2, 2009 trailing

“….Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:….”

(Ode: Intimations of Mortality by W. Wordsworth)

This is the gospel according to my mother. And gratefully, it is the gospel as I understand it, according to my Creator. I am blessed to have the two be comfortably reconciled, so that I did not have to abandon one to be at peace with the other. My mother taught the gospel in whispers. In touch, both tender and disciplinary. She taught it in the way she worked, in the middle of a fishing stream, in the front seat of the car. One of the most beautiful things she has taught me is how to grow; regardless of age, in spite of past mistakes, without reservations that result from pride. I have watched her and learned. She knew, as I know, that the little ones who emerged all wet and quivering, attached to the motherland, came with heaven in their wings. Their infant silence was a gradual forgetting, but I could always see it in their eyes, a far off gaze as if there were something brighter beyond their mother’s face. I see it in our little Ruby, though with her emerging laughter I have noticed her eyes connecting with ours more and more, so that soon the scene of heaven behind all of us will be dark, though no more distant. It has an element of sadness, knowing her heaven home was so recently left; and yet it is also quite lovely to know that she is given to us wholly and without reservation from her first creator. Such an amazing trust!
When our kids were young my mother taught her grandchildren to love well patterned words. Not just the patterns, I suppose, but also the messages in them. Mom understood, and still understands, the natural usefulness of bribery. So she made a deal with her dozen or so kids, and any of their friends who also called her Gram. She paid them to memorize poetry. There were rules, and you better darn well follow them to the tee! These were the rules:
1. You must stand with your shoulders straight and look Gram in the eye.
2. You must accurately recite the name of the poet and title of the poem.
3. You must recite without flaw at least eight lines of an epic poem, for the youngest ones, and as you got older that number increased.
4. You must be able to express your feelings about the poem with sincerity.
If you were able to do that, then Gram gave you five dollars. That’s a goodly sum of money for a six year old. (Heck, that’s a goodly sum for a fifty year old these days!) Thereafter, each time you recited the poem, following all the same rules, you were entitled to a quarter.
Now on Memorial Day we will gather around the graves and Johnny will be able to recite In Flanders Fields for us. Sarah can finish these words: “Between the dark and the daylight, when the light is beginning to lower….” Walk up to any of Gram’s grandchildren and ask them to recite a poem, and surely one will come up like bubbles in Ginger Ale newly opened. It will come rushing to their minds and their hearts at once, and I can almost guarantee you they will, somewhere in the back of their thoughts, be remembering their old Gram. They’ll recall her handing them a crisp five dollar bill, then placing her weathered hands on their cheeks and pulling them into her, kissing their pink lips with hers and saying, finally… “Do you know how much I love you?” and following that, always, with the words “Who’s your best friend?”
If any of my children are perhaps reading this blog, would you mind answering that question? I just want to make sure you know it.
Thank you, mother of my heart and my body, for teaching me to love words. I will hear for eternity your voice speaking the first poetry I ever wrote. You made it sound so much sweeter than it ever really was. Thank you for giving me strong arms to nestle in, with hands that gathered heaven's trailings and tucked them into my blanket. I feel them with me still.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


April 1, 2009 pocket
I wonder how many people have pondered the eternal nature of a pocket? Think about it, nothing lies as close to our skin as our clothing, and no place is as intimate and secret as a pocket. The other day Parker was trying to talk to Gumpa while they were working in the driveway, but his Binky interfered with their communication. His words were garbled as he tried to talk around the rubber bulb in his mouth and he got a little frustrated. So I suggested maybe he could take his Binky out of his mouth so Gumpa could understand him. Park is pleasantness personified, and he immediately took it out and asked Gump for a hammer. So here's this painfully handsome two year old builder boy pounding away with his little hand trying to hold a piece of wood and a binky at the same time, the other hand swinging away with his grandpa's hammer. In anyone else's garage he would probably just lay the pacifier down and pick it up later, but in our garage it would be a little worrisome to think you would be able to find anything you laid down. Sad, but true. Seeing this, I told Park to stand up and put his Binky in his pocket. He looked at me like I'd just told him to write a check or start the car, and I realized he had not yet discovered the magic in his little blue jeans. A pocket! Seriously, I would pay good money to preserve his expression when I showed him the secret place that moved with him wherever he went. Pockets in little kids' jeans...I have visited many of them. Checked them for decades on laundry day; coming up with rocks and pinecones, screws and acorns. Matchbox cars and marbles and Barbie doll heads. Now days I check Dave's jeans and only come up with Kleenex tissues. I am always so happy I checked before the wash cycle when I find those! But it kind of makes me yearn for the objects of discovery in the pockets of a pair of size 2 jeans.
I have a song called Pontiac Rocket, which is reminiscent of our travels in our blue Pontiac station wagon between Pittsburgh PA and Blackfoot ID. My friend El McMeen sent a note when he first heard it, saying this was a fine study in words that rhyme with "rocket". Think about it, (like you have nothing better to think about) how many words do you know in every day conversation that rhyme with rocket? I mean, who set up THAT pattern? Yeah...I did use the word pocket. Even moms in crisis find their pockets useful.


March 31, 2009 spaghetti

Basketti. That’s what Libby called it when we were little. Ba-sketti. And Kepich. That’s ketchup to the rest of us. I remember playing school in the basement, pretending the side of a cardboard box was a chalkboard and a crayon was chalk. I, of course, was the teacher and Libby was the student. “Now watch”, I would say in my old lady teacher voice: “ketch…say ketch” (and she would repeat exactly what I had said) “…now say up” (and she would repeat again.) “Now say ketchup” (“Kepuch”, she would say with all confidence). And then there was maz-a- geen instead of magazine. We tried it repeatedly for maybe fifteen minutes, which is a long time in first grade, and eventually decided to play Barbies instead. Somewhere along the way Libby learned to say it correctly and for years I have never noticed any hesitation when she talks.
Four-year-old Sophie had the same gift. Last Christmas I wrote a song about the Nativity we had done as a family, where she was Mary and Timo was Joseph and Anna Bella was a darling little curly haired angel. Parker was supposed to be a shepherd but he did NOT want to wear that shepherd costume! Gumpa read, and the Daddies and Uncle Jordon were wise men and the Mommies and Aunties were shepherds and angels, too. It was a beautiful moment, one to keep in the front window of the memory banks, so I put it in a song. When I write a new song I am always a bit timid about it, and I am always nervous to sing it to anyone. So usually I sing it to one of the little ones and see how they respond. Sometimes they don’t really respond, which is fine, too. At least I sang it to someone and broke the seal on it. In years past my best listeners have been Libby (she likes everything I do) and Annie (she was always the littlest and around me all the time when I was writing a lot, and besides she is so positive about almost everything except broken down cars). So when I was done with Mary Holds Him and was yearning to share it, the safest person around at the time was Sophie. She was coloring or something when I sang it to her. But I know she was listening because a while later, when I was loading her in the car to take her home, she said, “Gummy, when Timo comes to visit can we do that activity again?”
“What activity, Sophie?” I was trying to figure out if she meant Play Dough or making Chocolate Drop Cookies or maybe that game I bought at the 5 Hour Store where you fling fabric meatballs with strings of yarn that were supposed to look like spaghetti off of a plastic fork toward a chef who spun around on a motorized plate.
“You know, the Ac-Ti-Vi-Teeee!” She said it really slowly and purposefully, like I was hard of hearing or something.
“Golly Soph, I’m not sure which one you are talking about”
She took my face in her hands and repeated “Ac….Ti…Vi…Teee. You know, where I am Mary and my Cinderella doll is Baby Jesus! And Timo is Jesus’ Daddy.”
“Oh, you mean the Nativity! Of course. We can do that when Timo comes.”
Yup, I thought, we’ll act out the Activity and then whip up some Hot Chot-lick.